Frame 61

Susanne Svantesson

Frame 61
Susanne Svantesson

"in my work I express a need to make images in which women are subjects, meaning that their personalities and inner life stand out as the most relevant. Many of them relate to a lightly dissociative state of mind."


Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practising artist and where did you study?

I got into photography about 20 years ago, during high school in Trollhättan, Sweden where I grew up. A teacher pushed me to continue and I later moved to a small town called Sunne to study photography. I didn't think much of the education at the beginning but after a while, we got a new teacher who had a different perspective on what photography was about and he had his own both ruff and dreamy imagery that was really inspiring. As I look back now I can see how important this period was for me because I started to think a lot about what I wanted to do and I realized that I was more of an artist who wanted to use photography as a tool to create stories rather than just document. Of course, it was kind of a kliché that a cool and pretty renowned photographer who had lived in New York came back to his old hoods to enlighten a bunch of young girl's souls, haha! But it made me want to continue my exploration of how I could use photography to express myself.

After that, I moved to Stockholm and continued to work on some projects alongside different kinds of day jobs but I eventually got into art school and moved to the south of Sweden to study at Malmö Art Academy. During those five years, I also started experimenting with other kinds of materials even if photography remained my main medium. Working with video started to interest me a lot during the last years. The school is renowned for being theoretical and I got a good share of philosophy and art theory which I am happy for. It's a way to think that resonates with what I like about art as well, and I tend to dig deep into my subjects. I graduated with in 2011 and still live and work in Malmö. 

Blueshifts and mimetic modes of behavior, 2011

Blueshifts and mimetic modes of behavior, 2011

Blueshifts and mimetic modes of behavior, 2011

Blueshifts and mimetic modes of behavior, 2011

Many of your images and videos centre on woman being the main focal point. Could you tell us a bit about your work and the thoughts behind it?

Yes, in my work I express a need to make images in which women are subjects, meaning that their personalities and inner life stand out as the most relevant. Many of them relate to a lightly dissociative state of mind. The kind that we often find ourselves in when we are engulfed by books, movies or daydreams. Different places, times and rooms flow together and form a temporary reality, I see it as liberating place of creativity to form a new awareness of the self. The exhibition 'Following the white rabbit' is about the need to listen to your own curiosity.

For 'Visiting series', the persons I portray usually bring content from their own lives as a starting point. These pictures hover in a borderland between documentary and staged photography. They explore emotional states by playing with performance and symbolism in order to produce deeply evocative moods. There is an ambiguity about whether what we see is an outflow from inner dramas or a played out character. 

A while ago I stumbled upon a documentary about the 'Manson Family' and soon found myself researching the subject further. Charles Manson is a very complex figure but I was particularly interested in the young women who had gathered around him. Who were they and what were they looking for? The psychological game was my main focus. I guess I'm just very into the details that form a person, each choice can be so crucial, especially when you are young. Manson really took advantage of this.

So I started to rip out clips from documentaries and mixed them with a film sequence I had shot in the Californian desert. The video turned into a drive through the memory lane of this horror story. The images and different persons flow in and out of each other for about 30 minutes without a real beginning, nor end. People told me that the women's voices echoed inside them long after leaving the gallery space. This work is called 'Magical Mystery Tour'.

Magical Mystery Tour, 2016

In 2011 you had the show: "Blueshifts and mimetic modes of behavior" Could you tell us about the show and the video you had on display there?

The focus on human psychology is central to my practice and very much so in this particular work. I consistently question the complicated relationship between truth and lie, document and fiction. The degree to which fabrications and facts are enmeshed in the construction of the self is something I want to highlight through my work.

The video work of the exhibition titled 'Blueshifts and mimetic modes of behavior' is based on six movies (Persona, Mulholland Drive, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Antichrist, Pianist). I linked them together based on similarities in their themes. Duality, the relationship between inner and outer reality as well as a merge of identities are important to all of them. Most of these films are played out in a mental universe which I also used as a platform for designing the installation.

Both photographs and video work in this exhibition are built on interpretations and reconstructions of situations in the movies. They are linked to these topics that concern the theater of the self. Different parts of the mind are represented in the installation as the photographs are placed in a kind of light foyer and the video is shown in a rear dark room that the viewer only reaches when passing through several layers of heavy velvet curtains. 

By using my own person and body to mimic a number of roles, I also add additional layers of acting. It manifests itself primarily in the video work as the protagonist slides in and out of roles that are played more or less subtly. Image clips occasionally emerge from a compact darkness, but voices from the original films are constantly heard. They make up a soundtrack from quotes that in different ways are related to authenticity. This exhibition is full symbols I found when doing deep analyzes of the movies. That kind of things triggers my inner detective!

Blueshifts and mimetic modes of behavior, 2011

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?

I am part of a studio collective in Malmö where I have my own studio. This is my base where I have all my stuff. We also have a project room that you can sign up for and use for bigger projects. Since I work a lot with photography and video I also spend a lot of time at another member based collective kind of place that is basically a computer room. There is also scanners and printers and a room for sound recording and video editing. This room felt like it was my second home for a while, video editing takes a lot of time for me, which is fine because I am so in love with the process!

I am a person that works a lot in periods, especially when I have a hard deadline. I love to be in that flow when you are guided by intuition. After an exhibition, I usually need a long process to get back in to produce actual work again. I spend a lot of time thinking, reading and watching films or other things I'm drawn to for inspiration. It all relates to what kind of situation I am in as well, if I have a day job or not to circle around. 

So my studio is where I experiment with different kinds of materials. I recently started to make sculptures using fabric as a starting point. I add all kinds of materials like plaster, metal, wood, or stearine and make different kinds of formations that sometimes refers to bodies. It's a very exciting process! I don't really have a routine, how I plan for the day always depends on what it is that needs to be done. But I try to focus on one thing if possible, finishing stuff is a very powerful feeling. 

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

I just saw two exhibitions by female photographers that mainly shoot pictures of girls or women. Rineke Dijkstra who got the Hasselblad Award this year was one of them. I have seen her images in books many times but it was not until now I felt a real connection. Earlier I thought that her kind of straightforward portraits was a little bit boring but now that I have met the eyes of these women I totally see what she is interested in. What time and experiences does to persons gaze is very touching.

The other one was Julia Peirone who's exhibition at Gothenburg Museum of Art is titled Girls, Girls, Girls. She focuses on problematizing norms and beliefs about the role of girls in society. She does not work with portraits in the traditional sense, but rather studies of various conditions. Very inspiring to see her images in real life too!

Visiting #4 (Sonia and dogs), 2013

Visiting #4 (Sonia and dogs), 2013

Translucent view (Anna), 2010

Visiting #7 (Greenpoint), 2013

How do you go about naming your work?

It is a little bit different for every project. Sometimes I know what I want the title to be from the start but most of the time it shows up during the work process, at the point where I start to figure out what it is that I am talking about in my work. 'Visiting series' was a title I had in mind quite early for that series of work, but at the beginning, I only had about three images. I then produced more photographs under that title to make it a complete series. 

In other cases, the title is the finishing touch that makes the work turn into what it is supposed to be. The title was the very last thing I worked on for 'Blueshifts and mimetic modes of behavior' and it made so much sense to me when I finally came up with it. The color blue was recurrent in the movies that the work is based upon, as a symbol for transformation. And what I was doing in my interpretations was mimicking film scenes, also a kind of transformative act. 

'Magical Mystery Tour' is an example of a titled that felt really obvious to me. These are the words Charles Manson used to say to his followers to refer to their experience, living outside of society in the desert. It is also the title of a Beatles album, and as we know Manson was heavily influenced by their music. He twisted their lyrics in his own mind into something very weird.

Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

I look forward to start working on a collaborative project with a Norwegian music producer living in Los Angeles. We met when I was there at an artist residency last year. We are going to make an experimental video/sound project and I'm curious to see what it can lead to!

Right now I'm also in a phase where the most important thing for me is to test some ideas that I have thought about for a while. I have been working with collages and using layers as a method for a long time, these ideas could be a continuation of that field. Hopefully, that could turn into a new exhibition somewhere but I do not know where yet.

All images courtesy of the artist
Publish Date: 23/11/17